Digital Distraction

Per my previous post about laptops/phones in the classroom, here’s an interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Digital Distraction is a Problem Far Beyond the Classroom. But Professors Can Still Help

In a nutshell, the article posits that digital distraction is everywhere, even the classroom. It’s not just the classroom. ”

“They’re digitally distracted in class because they happen to be in class.”

So many good reasons why banning laptops/phones in class is a bad idea. The better idea is to promote active learning. I see that every time I’m in a class.

 

Can Laptops in class be used for Good? YES!

Thoughts prompted by this excellent tweet and conversation:

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I’ve been working as an academic technologist at a university for almost two years. I could retire if I got a dollar for every time I’ve heard complaining about how students can’t handle having computers/laptops in the classroom.

Thankfully, there are people like Rebecca Wingo to make me feel all better. Look at this productive, pedagogically appropriate use of laptops in a classroom. Encouraging students to validate what they’re hearing, to confirm facts, to find additional resources. THAT is what technology can do when used appropriately.

Three people working together on a laptop.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

I was teaching in a class recently. Students were assigned to do research and develop a digital project in the space of three class periods. They had class time to do this. They were in small groups of 2 to 3. For an entire class period (75 minutes), these students were focused, productive and above all, learning. What types of learning did I see?

  • Content: they learned essential content about their chosen topic of interest
  • Group work: they were working in small groups, they had to divide tasks, resolve any disagreements
  • Time management: they only had two class periods to do this project. The weren’t supposed to work on it outside of class. They couldn’t be distracted
  • Digital literacy: they learned how to find information and decide if it was valid, reliable, useful
  • Digital skills: they had to try a new digital tool and master it in a short period of time. It was not complex, but did require them to create and share a Google Sheet (this was new to some); learn a template and publish it within the other tool.
  • Writing: they had to quickly find, digest and communicate information. This was done through digital appropriate writing (much different than academic!)
  • Visual communication: they were required to use visuals and possibly spatial data. Using these different types of media can be challenging. Copyright, interpretation, technical skills all come into play.

I sat in and helped as needed for all three sessions. I did not see a single student “distracted” by the technology. They were on task, they were focused and they created something. They looked at content differently. They discussed. I saw a few kids send a few texts. but they got right back to work. Did they create something like a 10-page final paper? No. And I bet they’ll remember it far longer than the 10-page paper they wrote for another class.

What made this a such a successful project? In my mind, it was a few things:

  • Students were actively engaged in their learning.
  • Students produced something, not just absorbed information.
  • Students were learning about something of their choice.
  • Students were helping each other learn new things.
  • Students were given permission to fail, or to not be as perfect as an A usually requires.
  • Learning was more about the process than the final product.

While my example is quite different than the one Rebecca Wingo shared in her tweet, it’s fresh in my mind.

For my next lecture, however, I am going to purposefully toss a few things in to have students engage. I do love the look on students’ faces when you tell them to get out their phone/laptop. It’s even more rewarding when the “students” are faculty/instructors. I often present to faculty/instructors about incorporating technology into classes, whether it’s the learning management system, Google, GIS  or something else. I usually do incorporate some sort of hands on tech thing, since that what I’m teaching, but after Rebecca’s post, I am going to be even more deliberate to model what they can do with students in class.

 

Cred

I almost forgot — I wanted to address the thought that forgetting names/dates and having students look up things calls into question her credibility. I think it’s quite the opposite. She’s teaching them so much more about how to be a historian, how to study history and how to be a student. I hope our credibility as historians (or other subject matter experts) isn’t on how much we can memorize and spit back. It should be on how we can find information, analyze, conceptualize, and more. I’m even more impressed in her credibility!

 

Education or Business?

Why is the New York Times so opposed to education in technology? The article, “How Google Took Over the Classroom” is another criticism of education working with any commercial company to provide better learning for students.

The first Times article I saw critical of ed tech was critical of Apple’s business practices of getting technology into schools.

This article criticizes Google for its business practices of circumventing administrators by going right to teachers and using teachers to convince other teachers of Google products. Let’s look a little closer.

Google was the first tool that allowed collaborative editing and such easy sharing of materials. This was a game changer in schools from a pedagogical perspective. It had a profound impact on how teachers could deepen learning for students, pushing further up the SAMR model by allowing for learning experiences that were not possible before technology.

Perhaps teachers embraced and promoted Google and Google tools because these tools led to better learning? It was not, as the article implies, a bad thing that teachers were involved in deciding on the technology to be used. This is a good thing.

Google listened to teachers. Google worked with teachers to create tools that teachers wanted for themselves and for their students. I have a hard time seeing why this is not a good thing…..

As for students being steeped in Google by the time they graduate, why is that worse than being steeped in Microsoft or Apple products? If it wasn’t Google, it would be Pages and Numbers from Apple, or Word and Powerpoint. Schools are going to have some sort of office software, and students will be more comfortable with whatever they use.

Apple and Microsoft

Apple was first out of the gate, and appears to be losing ground recently. The iPads jumped into education right after it was introduced, even to Apple’s surprise. Microsoft just this year (many years after Google) introduced a series of products that are created specifically for the K12 education market. Seriously, this is almost 7 years later – an eon in technology time. Microsoft made some huge errors early on — I still have one of the first Surface tablets Microsoft gave away at a big teacher conference trying to convince teachers to use their stuff. Needless to say, that early version of the Surface was a bust – I haven’t turned that thing on in years.

Microsoft, Apple and Google have really different ways of interacting with teachers. Honestly, they all watch each other closely and will likely really keep building on each others mistakes and successes. Criticizing Google for how it works with teachers is just crazy.

Privacy

I do fully acknowledge the privacy concerns. However, I’m not sure why this article focuses so much on the transition of a student’s school Google account to a personal account. I’m not so sure students will actually want to take all of their high school email and papers over to a personal account. Is this a common practice? There is not evidence in the article beyond one school example.

Positive Impact of Tech

Sometime, I’d love to see a Times article that addresses the positive impact of edtech.

 

Improving Learning

We can’t use tech because it is “cool and new.” It must improve learning. If it doesn’t improve learning, why are we spending the money?

I met Eric Sheninger when he did the TEDxBurnsville event at the Minnesota History Center (it’s complicated) in 2014. He is an idol, I was thrilled to meet him. Watch his TEDx talk…

Saw this interview with him. It’s worth a listen.

More Audiobook Discussion!

Today, I saw a counter argument to the recently referenced blog post from Digital Book World that slammed audiobooks.

I am very happy to report that today’s post is much more affirming of audiobooks, and for real reasons — not just the previous author’s “feeling” that audiobooks were cheating.

First, let’s make a point. I want no more argument with this one:

I call it “reading.” Consuming a book, whether you do that in hardcover, braille, tablet or audio, constitutes reading in my book. To suggest otherwise is discourteous to those who don’t have the choice.

This next quote is what makes me happy about audiobooks:

But what’s particularly exciting when you’re reading a book with your ears, rather than your eyes, is the whole world of possibility that instantly emerges.

Possibility! For example, the additional nuance that a good narrator can bring. (And the horror a narrator who doesn’t fit your expectations can bring….) I appreciate that the author points out that oral storytelling is where we all began. And that in our changing lifestyles (commutes, more technology, etc.) it is not only easier to access audiobooks, but easier to consume them. Let’s see — should we read a paperback book while driving? I think not. But we can listen!

Hopefully this is the end of the great audiobook wars for awhile. I’m heading out to drive to work, and will be listening to an audiobook on the way.